Cost of '4 strikes' plan drops, still means millions more for prisons

When Attorney General Bill Schuette first proposed his "4 strikes and you're out" plan for repeat felons, the Michigan Department of Corrections said the additional costs to the prison system could exceed $1 billion per year by the middle of the 21st century.

New calculations by the department, incorporated into a Senate Fiscal Agency analysis, however, now peg the upper end at $250 million per year in the 25th year of the program's operations. The SFA analyst on Senate Bill 1109, filed May 2, expects an even lower figure -- $188 million in year 25.

"My goal with this bill, which I think is our goal, is to keep violent offenders off the street -- a message of safety and a message of security to citizens in your districts and citizens across the state of Michigan," Schuette told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.

Previous coverage
on '4 strikes'

Schuette may need big taxpayer bucks to get tougher on crime

AG Office offers details on '4 strikes' thinking

Lock 'em up and send taxpayers the bill

"There comes a point that you have prisons and what do you build them for," he added, "but to keep violent offenders behind bars."

"(Mandatory minimums) are a one-size-fits-all approach that prevents judges from doing their jobs when it comes to imposing individualized sentences," counters Jim Samuels of the Criminal Defense Attorneys of Michigan, "and an approach that has proved to be ineffective in reducing crime rates.

"All these man-min penalties do is drive up incarceration rates," added the Big Rapids attorney who is president of CDAM, an advocacy group. "It is ironic that Michigan would consider such an alternative when others in the Legislature and executive branch are searching for more efficient and effective corrections alternatives."

MDOC spokesman Russ Marlan said the differences in cost projections were a function of how many beds the department would need to imprison felons covered under the proposal.

For example, MDOC originally thought it might need about 18,000 more beds to deal with the felons sentenced to longer terms than they receive now. In the latest figures, that need is revised to just under 7,400 beds by the 25-year mark of the program.

Schuette provided some heat to a January day this year when he first unveiled the proposal for a "4 strikes and you're out" sentencing regime aimed at repeat felons who commit a violent crime. At the time, the attorney general was short on the operating specifics of the proposal, but vehement on the need for it to combat "fear" by law-abiding Michigan residents.

“For too long, there’s been too much fear, not enough jobs,” he said at a Lansing press conference.

The Michigan Department of Corrections prompted a different kind of fear -- of the budgetary variety -- when its initial response to Schuette's plan was an estimate of costs ranging upwards of $1 billion per year as Michigan approached the middle of the 21st century. With the Corrections Department already spending $2 billion per year, the huge new price tag had advocates for lower prison costs alarmed.

Testifying before a legislative committee in February, Center for Michigan President John Bebow, as part of the Corrections Reform Coalition, urged lawmakers to drive corrections costs below $2 billion, not above it.

Gov. Rick Snyder proposed an increase to the MDOC budget for fiscal 2013, to $1.982 billion from state sources. The Senate has passed a corrections budget at $1.910 billion, while the House passed one at $1.945 billion. A joint Senate-House conference committee will negotiate a compromise budget bill for consideration by both chambers.

Senior Editor Derek Melot joined Bridge Magazine in 2011 after serving as an assistant editorial page editor, columnist and reporter at the Lansing State Journal, where he covered state and local issues extensively, earning awards from the Associated Press and Michigan Press Association. The Oklahoma native moved to Michigan in 1999.

Editor's note: Gongwer News Service contributed to this report. 


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Thu, 05/10/2012 - 11:01pm
There are just two types of criminals: those we fear and those we're just mad at. If we don't fear them, then they probably don't belong in prison and should be punished and/or corrected in other ways. If we didn't imprison those we're just mad at, what would the cost savings be? What would the alternative punishments and correction processes be? Who would do the correcting and punishment, the state or should this be done locally? What would our recidivism rates be? How would we figure this all out? I think the answers to these questions are in places that have already figured this out, in Canada, most of Europe and Australia, all places with incarceration rates 1/7th of ours.